Today, the House Appropriations Committee approved its Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill, which covers U.S. economic, humanitarian, and military assistance to the South Caucasus, reported the Armenian Assembly of America (Assembly). Specific funding levels to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Nagorno Karabakh were not delineated in the bill.
The House bill was similar to the Senate version, which was approved last week. Both bills maintained Section 907 of the FREEDOM Support Act, restating the six customary exemptions for humanitarian and other assistance to Azerbaijan. Section 907 was enacted in 1992 and requires the Government of Azerbaijan to take “demonstrable steps to cease all blockades and other offensive uses of force” against Armenia and Artsakh.
However, the Senate report language, unlike the House, specifically highlighted funding to Nagorno Karabakh as follows: “The Committee recommends assistance for victims of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in amounts consistent with prior years, and for ongoing needs related to the conflict.”
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the Assembly that “continued assistance for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh remains an important priority.” Commenting on the House bill, Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, stated, “I am disappointed that we could not reach agreement on language underscoring the need for humanitarian assistance in Nagorno Karabakh. We must continue to fight for this assistance as the bill moves through the legislative process to ensure the best possible outcome for our allies Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh. Given the bellicose language and attacks coming from Azerbaijan on a daily basis, this aid is absolutely critical for the freedom, prosperity and self-determination of those in the region,” Schiff told the Assembly.
The House and Senate FY 2015 SFOPS bills each totaled approximately $48 billion, which is some $700 million below the enacted FY 2014 level, and roughly $280 million less than the President’s FY 2015 request.
The Administration’s budget calls for $1.7 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and $600,000 in International Military Education Training (IMET) for Armenia and Azerbaijan. This amounts to a reduction of $1 million for FMF from last year’s budget request, however IMET funding is consistent with past years and military parity is maintained between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
In addition to FMF and IMET assistance, the Administration’s FY 2015 budget also recommended that Armenia receive $20.7 million in Economic Support Funds (compared to the FY 2014 request of $24.7 million), and $1.7 million in International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (compared to the FY 2014 request of $2.8 million). The Administration’s budget also zeroed out global health funding for Armenia. In total, the FY 2015 budget provides $24.7 million in U.S. assistance to Armenia, which is a $6.143 million reduction when compared to the Administration’s FY 2014 request of $30.843 million.
Earlier this year, the Assembly submitted testimony to the House Appropriations Committee, stressing the importance of U.S. assistance to Artsakh as well as Armenia, and the much needed humanitarian assistance for Armenians in, and those fleeing, Syria. Additionally, the Assembly’s testimony highlighted the inexplicable pardon of a convicted Azeri officer who brutally murdered an Armenian officer at a NATO partnership for peace training exercise and urged that the Subcommittee cease military assistance to Azerbaijan.
“Given Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s ongoing blockade of Armenia and the escalating security threats from Azerbaijan, coupled with the unconscionable pardon by Azerbaijan of a convicted axe murderer, as well as other regional developments, the Assembly urges Congress to ensure robust aid to Armenia and Artsakh,” stated Assembly Executive Director Bryan Ardouny. “Moreover, with the latest developments in Syria and Iraq, the Assembly urges Congress to take immediate action to provide urgent humanitarian relief to the Christian Armenian community there,” Ardouny stated.
After both measures pass their respective chambers, the next step in the legislative process involves the creation of an Appropriations conference committee, whose members will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill before sending it to the President for him to sign into law.